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What do you do when good hard drives go bad? Tell me if this sounds familiar. You spend a year or two filling up an enormous external hard drive, and just as you start thinking it might be a good idea to buy another enormous drive to back up your data, you boot your computer and hear a heart-stopping sound from your disk: thuck… thuck… thuck… thuck… @#$%!!!!

I had a huge amount of data go dark on me two weeks ago. I suppose I reached the end of the grieving process this weekend, because my mind started to clear up and it occurred to me that maybe all was not lost. After all, there are a lot of electronics in those external hard drives, separate from the drive itself. Inside your typical external hard drive is just a normal 3.5 inch internal hard drive plus the electronics necessary to power everything, control the drive, and provide USB or Firewire connectivity to the host computer.

So, voiding the warrantee, I pulled the enclosure apart and replaced the suspect drive with a working EIDE drive I had lying about. Sure enough, when I turned things on, the drive I knew to be good started clacking away. At this point, I was pretty sure my data was still safe and sound, but being that I didn’t have a machine handy that could mount an XFS formatted disk, I couldn’t verify things for sure until I could get the disk connected back to my iMac.

Most computer stores sell really cheap (approx. $30) hard disk enclosures which you can just slap an EIDE disk into to create an external Firewire or USB drive. I ran to my local store, picked one up, and I’m happy to say that I just recovered 320GB of data that I had just about given up on.

If you own an external drive that’s failed on you, make sure to test the drive and enclosure before you throw it out. It’s quite possible that your data is still intact and you can save yourself a couple hundred bucks and a lot of trauma by just replacing the enclosure.

At the very least, you might have a bad disk but a working enclosure that you can use to make a new external disk.

On a side note, until today I only owned a single external drive. Being that there’s only one data point, I can’t say a whole lot for sure, but I keep thinking that I’m just a random person with a 100% enclosure failure rate. Until I hear otherwise, I remain suspicious that this might be a fairly common failure point.